2019 Audi Q8 first drive review

Audi's biggest, baddest SUV leaves no tech on the table

More than a burlier Q7, Audi’s Q8 lives up to its flagship status with tech, power, and luxury.
More than a burlier Q7, Audi’s Q8 lives up to its flagship status with tech, power, and luxury.
More than a burlier Q7, Audi’s Q8 lives up to its flagship status with tech, power, and luxury.

Highs

  • High-tech interior
  • Luxurious
  • Spacious
  • Strong V6

Lows

  • Steering lacks feel
  • Quiet exhaust

The Chinese consider 8 to be a lucky number. Eight is also important in music theory; many scales are written in eighth notes. In Audi-speak, 8 means flagship, like the A8 and the R8. The German firm just added a third and final pillar named Q8 to its armada of range-topping models, and Digital Trends traveled to the vast Atacama Desert in Chile to check it out.

Unveiled in June, the Q8 won’t go on sale in the United States until the end of 2018, so it’s too early to say what it will and won’t come standard with. Audi hasn’t released pricing information, either, but we speculate it will start in the vicinity of $70,000. When it lands, it will compete in the same segment as Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport, the Maserati Levante, and the Porsche Cayenne. Buyers will also inevitably compare it to swoopier rivals like the BMW X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe.

Interior and tech

The design of the Q8’s interior makes sitting behind the wheel feel like taking a chair in a cockpit, especially with a desert as a background. Film crews could film a sequel to Mad Max in this scenery. The widespread use of straight lines bolsters that effect.

Audi added a thin, elegant strip of chrome trim to the top part of the dashboard to emphasize the Q8’s sense of width, and installed genuine metal trim to frame the center console. Every part within the driver’s line of sight or touch feels like it belongs in a luxury car, and we found no egregious signs of cost-cutting. The Q8 upholds Audi’s reputation for making quality interior by feeling every bit as nice as Porsche’s latest Cayenne.

Audi’s newest infotainment software, which we’ve previously called one of the best systems in the business, re-appears in the Q8. It’s built around a 10.1-inch touch screen with haptic feedback, meaning it emits a little vibration to confirm you’ve pressed an icon. We like the shallow menus that facilitate the task of finding a setting, and we love the drag-and-drop function. Why doesn’t every car manufacturer offer this? You can move an icon around on the screen by pushing down on it for about a second, just like on a smartphone or a tablet, and set favorites.

Audi developed an application that lets owners remotely lock or unlock the car, set the climate control, program a destination into the navigation, and even adjust the seats.

Buyers seeking smartphone integration won’t be disappointed. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility both come standard, and Audi developed an application that lets owners remotely lock or unlock the car, set the climate control, program a destination into the navigation, and even adjust the seats. Called Audi MMI Connect, the app works with both Android and Apple devices.

The second screen on the center console replaces the knobs, buttons, and dials normally required to operate the climate control system. The result is a clean, crisp, and high-tech look you’d have only found in a futuristic concept car just a few years ago. The dual-screen setup also makes the dashboard nearly button-free, though we applaud Audi for keeping an old-fashioned volume knob; some things shouldn’t change, and the volume knob is one of them.

Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

The Q8 rides on an evolution of the platform that underpins the Q7, but it’s shorter, lower, and a little bit wider. The two models share the same wheelbase. The Q8’s family SUV roots allow it to offer a spacious interior for both people and gear, especially when compared to more style-focused rivals with a fastback-esque roof line; we’re looking at you, X6. Two full-size adults can sit on the second row without feeling cramped, even with a pair of six-footers up front. Trunk space checks in at 21.4 cubic feet with both rows of seats left up and a generous 62 cubes with the second row folded flat.

Driving experience

The Q8 is the first chapter in a book that will later include high-performance SQ8 and RS Q8 variants, both with V8 power. We’re not there yet. The standard Q8 comes with a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 335 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. It sends its power to the four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system. The 40/60 front-rear torque split endows the Q8 with rear-biased handling in normal driving conditions.

The 2019 Audi Q8 manages to feel respectably quick off the line.

In comparison, the BMW X6 offers a 300-horsepower straight-six as its base engine. Walk across the street to the Land Rover dealer and the base Range Rover Sport brings a 340-horsepower supercharged V6 to the table. Over at Porsche, the Cayenne kicks things off with a 335-horsepower V6.

The Q8 is in the same ballpark as its rivals in the performance department. It’s important to remember those 335 horses need to move about 4,700 pounds, but in spite of the altitude of the roads we’re on the Q8 manages to feel respectably quick off the line, especially with the drive mode selector switched to dynamic. Model-specific suspension settings help it deliver a more engaging driving experience than the Q7 it’s based on, though we wish the electromechanical steering rack offered more feel. It enters a corner with stride, shows a surprising level of lateral grip, and exits it with aplomb thanks to a thick lump of torque available across nearly the entire rev range.

Our test car came with the optional air suspension, which helps bring out the full scope of the Q8’s personality. One minute, we were in the Andes mountains climbing up, up, and away with the Q8 buttoned down in dynamic mode. The next, we were driving by Chilean llamas on a rough dirt road that felt like the type of surface automakers replicate on their test tracks to test the longevity of their suspension systems.

2019 Audi Q8 First Drive
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Dynamic wouldn’t have cut it, so we switched to comfort to smooth out the road surface. It’s not magic, and won’t make a dirt road feel like the German Autobahn, but it raises the body for additional ground clearance and mellows out the shock absorbers to deliver a more compliant ride.

We noticed two constants regardless of driving mode or road surface. First, the Q8’s interior is surprisingly quiet. Too quiet, almost; this is a performance model and we’d like to hear more of the six-cylinder. Second, the eight-speed transmission has a knack for finding the right gear at the right time. We ignore the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles during most of our drive, regardless of whether we were passing a bus taking tourists to a desert resort, or driving through snow and mud at 15,000 feet.

Audi’s top-dog SUV lives up to the 8 in its name

Speaking of snow and mud, Audi stresses the Q8 is an all-terrain vehicle designed around performance, not an off-roader capable of tackling the Rubicon Trail. Get a Jeep Wrangler if that’s what you’re after. But, to credibly wear the SUV label, the Q8 needs to offer at least some semblance of off-road capacity.

Our time behind the wheel included a stint on an off-road course in the vast, arid Atacama Desert, giving us the chance to test the Q8’s prowess and the tech around it. Selecting another drive mode called, appropriately, Off-Road prepares the car for venturing off the pavement by raising the air suspension to its maximum height for extra ground clearance. The central touch screen turns into a command center that displays an inclinometer, the steering angle, and geographical data like the altitude. Properly configured, the Q8 easily got us up – and, significantly, down – sandy inclines we wouldn’t have dared tackle in a car-derived crossover.

We didn’t spend enough time driving the Q8 to measure real-world fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t published figures for Audi’s newest model yet.

Warranty

The Q8, like every Audi, comes with a warranty valid for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Audi also includes four years of 24-hour roadside assistance at no extra cost.

How DT would configure this car

We can’t tell you how we’d configure the Q8 until we see the list of standard and optional features. However, a lot of the technology we mentioned (including the triple screens) will come standard. We’d add the air suspension for a more comfortable ride and, as audiophiles, the optional sound system.

Conclusion

More than merely a burlier Q7, Audi’s top-dog SUV lives up to the 8 in its name with tech, luxury, and power. We can’t wait to see what happens when Audi turns up the performance dial.